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PIA: NNPC commercialisation divides lawyers

It’s good for the nation –Fassy Yusuf
Not healthy for citizens’ interest, says Akingbolu

President Muhammadu Buhari’s assent of the Petroleum Industry Bill(PIB),which has become an act, especially the commercialisation of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation(NNPC), has caused a sharp division among lawyers. While some opined that the commercialization is good for the sector, others were of the view that it is not healthy for the country.

They said the current act has a lot of implications. Dr. Fassy Yusuf said: “First, the commercialization of the NNPC with the Federal Government owing major stakes has nothing to do with the reality we have on ground. NNPC can be domiciled anywhere but the operationalisation is another thing. “Are we capable of moving away from the past and present to a better future in order to protect the interest of the industry and at the same time provide dividends? “If we have the same mindset and we are doing it the way we have been doing it in the past and at the moment, the law will not change anything.

To that extent, I want to say that there should be a rejuvenation of the NNPC, so that it would be able to perform optimally. “The other issue is that we are fond of playing to the gallery and until the country decides to be decisive and to take the bull by the horn, we will not get there” Another lawyer, Kabir Akingbolu, stated that, “Personally, I don’t think that commercialization of the NNPC is in the best interest of Nigerians.

“Truth be told, even when it wasn’t commercialized, it was not functioning to satisfy Nigerians in terms of meeting their needs. At that time, petroleum oil prices were always going up without check and it’s going to be worse now because of the sudden commercialization.

“This is because having been so structured, its primary motive first is to make so much profits before thinking of satisfying the yearnings of Nigerians. Also, the rot that had hitherto pervaded the corporation may now increase because you only have a new wine but still in old skin.

“So since nothing actually changed in terms of staffing and other things. The mere commercialization does not make the difference in efficiency. I think Nigerians need more than all these cosmetic reforms in the oil sector”. An Oil and Gas Lawyer, Dennis Ugwuoke, in his reaction, noted that one of the key elements of the recently passed Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) by the National Assembly is the commercialisation of the Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC).” Indeed, by all accounts, the need to unbundle the inefficient behemoth which the NNPC has for all practical purposes become not just on the oil and gas industry but in the nation’s finances was one of the fundamental reasons for the total restructuring of the oil and gas industry which the PIA hopes to achieve. “This provision in the PIA is certainly a welcome development to Nigerians, who have grown tired of seeing an underperforming NNPC.

This is as we have seen petroleum companies like Petrobras of Brazil, Petronas of Malaysia, Aramco of Saudi Arabia, all of them national petroleum companies of their respective countries just like our NNPC, become key players in the international oil industry. “The commercialisation of the NNPC is expected to pave way for the realisation of the full potentials of the Nigerian petroleum industry, attracting local and international investors just as other sectors like telecommunications have been witnessing unprecedented growth with positive results in Nigeria as a whole.

“We, therefore, welcome this particular provision in the Act because a commercialised NNPC will drastically reduce, if not stop altogether, the humongous waste of public funds which is being witnessed and entrench accountability which is virtually non-existent in the current NNPC set up. Indeed, the NNPC, if properly managed, has a lot to offer the country. The Corporation is not only about bringing petroleum products into the country and paying subsidy for same. “The reform of the NNPC is long overdue and all stakeholders should welcome this and support the efforts. “However, it is our view that if indeed the government is desirous of commercialising the NNPC, it should go all out and achieve it.

“But we also hope that this does not turn round to bite the very citizens, who have clamoured for it as we have seen in the commercialisation of some sectors in the past. This should be done in such a way that the average Nigerian benefits from it. If shares are to be sold to private citizens, there should be a level playing field for everyone interested. “We also must note that there is no time to waste bearing in mind that developments in the global oil industry may not be favourable in the long run for producers like Nigeria. Research into alternative sources of energy is going apace which may eventually render fossil fuels like oil irrelevant. Also oil finds around the world are being made rapidly as a result of new exploration methods, which bring new oil fields into the equation, thereby giving investors the latitude to pick and choose which countries to invest their funds in relative to operating environment and profitability. “Against this background, this is the best time for Nigeria to prepare for what is likely to be the coming headwinds in the global oil industry. We may likely not get such an opportunity again if we let this slip as we have done in the past. “Commercialisation of the NNPC should be given the full attention and support it requires” .

 

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